I was fairly young on 9/11/01. I sat in my 5th grade teacher’s class watching the small tube TV she had turned on when the teacher across the hall frantically rushed over to tell what happened.
My small childhood world shrunk to encompass that TV and nothing more. My mother was in Pennsylvania. Although she wasn’t near the scene of the Flight 93 crash, that detail escaped my little mind, and in my mouth was the coppery taste of dread.
I don’t remember much else about that day. I only understood on a rudimentary level what had happened.
I remember much more from the days and weeks following the attack.
I remember Democrats and Republicans uniting on the steps of Congress that evening to sing “God Bless America.”
I remember listening to a song on the radio about it on the way to school the next day and trying not to cry — from sadness, but also from sentimentality.
I remember my mother, who wasn’t particularly patriotic before the tragedy, bought tiny American flags to clip to the windows of her white Pontiac Aztek.
I remember seeing a t-shirt in Steve and Barry’s that read “United we stand; divided we fall.” I felt those words, the burn of pride, the lump in my throat. We were one country, tightly woven together, united by a single shared tragic experience.
But like Steve and Barry’s, the feelings that shirt inspired have long since disappeared.
We are a country fractured.
Our us versus them mentality has folded in on itself. We are no longer united against those who would do us harm. “Them” is no longer an evil entity. “Them” has become citizens of our own country who also want the best for US but have different ideas about how to get there.
Our patriotism has soured into nationalism. Dissent is becoming unpalatable. Those who disagree with our government are labeled “enemies of the people” by our own president.
In the words of North Dakota’s beloved president, Theodore Roosevelt: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
Being able to express our differences and love one another anyway is a foundational idea of our beautiful country.
Oddly enough, I miss the freshly altered world I woke up to on September 12. I miss the reality of the time expressed by President George W. Bush in his Sept. 20, 2001 joint speech to Congress and to US.
“We've seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people who have made the grief of strangers their own.
My fellow citizens, for the last nine days, the entire world has seen for itself the state of union, and it is strong.”
The U.S. is “US,” and I long for the day when we recognize that again.